Friday, November 3, 2006
Updated: November 6, 1:01 PM ET
NFL isn't half-bad this season
By David Fleming
Some half-decent (and some half-baked) observations at the halfway point of yet another half-crazy NFL season...
HALFWAY TO MVP: Brian Urlacher, LaDainian Tomlinson and Peyton Manning. In a season when Manning is twice as good as he's ever been, somehow it seemed appropriate that after I talked to him yesterday, he walked away carrying not one but two Colts playbooks.
HALFWAY: What the Bengals are to proving, definitively, that a team's off-the-field character does -- or does not -- matter one little bit. Stay tuned.
HALF A GENIUS: Who was the writer dude brainiac from Page 2 and The Mag who picked the 1-6 Dolphins to go to the Super Bowl? Oh yeah, wait, that was me. Perhaps now, thanks to Nick Saban, we can declare this silly idea to use college coaches in the pros half over.
DOING TWICE AS MUCH WITH HALF THE TALENT: Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy, Eric Mangini and Rams coach Scott Linehan -- they prove my theory that when searching for a new coach, the smart owners and GMs worry less about the guy's Q rating and more about how the new guy's schemes fit the personnel already in place.
DOING HALF AS MUCH WITH TWICE THE TALENT: Gregg Williams, Jon Gruden, Nick Saban, Bill Cowher and, of course, Denny Green.
HALF-BAKED: This is what I thought of Bill Parcells' timing on the switch to Tony Romo. I was certain a knee-jerk quarterback switch by an out-of-touch Tuna was going to cost his team at least two games. But he had the guts to roll the dice on the entire season (and maybe even his coaching legacy) and it came up lucky number 9 (Romo's jersey). Maybe, just maybe, this is the year Tuna gets his first playoff win of the new millennium.
HALFWAY TO HEFNER: I was at the Playboy party in Jacksonville that was recently used against Harold Ford Jr. in those ridiculous and scummy political ads in Tennessee and, trust me, the only thing scandalous was how lame that party was.
HALFHEARTED: Randy Moss, remember him? That dude is all 'fro and no go.
HALF AN HOUR: The length of time that seemed to pass during the uncomfortable yet hilarious pause in speech that followed Bill Belichick being asked why he puts Tom Brady down as "questionable" every week on his injury report. I mean, you could hear the guy's blood boiling as he chewed a hole in his sweatshirt. (Actually, this is kinda smart, because by putting him on there every week, when he is truly hurt, no one is going to notice.)
HALFWAY HOME TO CAROLINA: Bill Cowher.
HALF THE YARDS PER GAME: The Cards broke the bank to sign running back Edgerrin James, who is gaining 2.8 yards per carry, almost 1.5 yards less than his career average.
HALFWAY THERE: The Motor City Kitties have eight more games to try to reach the magical 40-point mark that Roy Williams promised a few months ago. Let's not be too hard on Matt Millen, who has taken a proud franchise and turned it into the original expansion Tampa Bay Bucs. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: At least they're all wearing pants now.
HALF THE CREDIT THEY DESERVE: Falcons RB Warrick Dunn. Eagles QB Donovan McNabb. Colts RB Joseph Addai. Rams WR Torry Holt. Cowboys WR Terry Glenn.
HALFWAY TO A NEW TREND: When things go bad, there's only one thing you can do: Fire your offensive coordinator. Baltimore did it and won. Cleveland did it and gained a season-high 147 yards rushing. Denny "Crane" Green did it, but only because if he fired the guy who keeps ignoring the Cards' offensive line he'd be out of a job.
HALF-WIT: I know that Eastern Illinois is getting a lot of pub right now as the former home of Tony Romo, Brad Childress, Sean Payton, Mike Shanahan and Mike Heimerdinger. But let's just hold up on these "Cradle of Coaches" tags. There's only one Cradle of Coaches, and it's my beloved little alma mater Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. We see your Tony Romo and raise you Woody Hayes, Paul Brown, Weeb Ewbank and Sid Gillman. I went to school at the Cradle of Coaches. I know the Cradle of Coaches, I worked with the Cradle of Coaches, I did beer bongs for five glorious years with the Cradle of Coaches. You sir, are no Cradle of Coaches.
HALFWAY TO A FIRST DOWN: That's what teams get every time they run the ball on the Colts. Actually, it's a bit more (5.2 ypc). You have to go back to 1953, the very first year of the franchise, to find a Colts defense this bad against the run. And if they can't solve this sieve, I'm afraid the Colts are headed for another season of gaudy numbers and an early playoff exodus.
MORE THAN HALF THE WORLD: Has yelled the cell-phone jingle from those dippy commercials -- woo-hoo-wo-hoo-hoo -- out loud to themselves while driving in their car.
HALFWAY DONE: This column.
HALF A DOZEN: The number of Super Bowl losers from the year before who failed to make the playoffs once the Seahawks falter in the second half.
HALF THE RULES: Of the English language were broken in that previous item.
HALF AS GOOD: After he was nearly perfect last year, the headline for the 2006 season of Arizona kicker Neil Rackers would read: Shanks for the Memories.
WAIT HALF A SECOND: Am I the only one who looks at the Cardinals' gleaming, massive, gazillion-dollar new stadium complex and, instead of marveling at the structure, see it as a monument to everything that is wrong with the feeble Cards, the greedy NFL and a society with its priorities out of whack?
I'M ALMOST HALF-SERIOUS: Besides Colts-Broncos, the best football game I've seen this year was right in my backyard: Davidson 37, Dayton 36 -- featuring some eye-popping circus grabs by senior wideout Brett Dioguardi, who finished with nine catches and 163 yards and two TDs.
HALFWAY TO THE PLAYOFFS: The Panthers, trust me. And, OK, Kansas City too.
HALF-SAD: What this league does to even its greatest running backs: As their bodies finally say "no mas" they go from all-world to the scrap heap in a dizzying, baffling decline over their final 100 carries. Curtis Martin? Priest Holmes? Eddie George? Emmitt Smith? Franco Harris? The list goes on and on. So, kudos to you, Tiki Barber.
HALF THE STORY: From a distance I saw the massive tab for rebuilding the Superdome and thought, "That money would have been better spent elsewhere." Then I walked to the Saints-Eagles game from several blocks away with the fans and the residents and the vendors and a fat drunk guy with an Eagles jersey on wearing Mardi Gras beads the size of Christmas ornaments, and I saw, firsthand, the value of such a symbol of hope. That city is coming back and it's all radiating outward from inside that stadium.
HALF A DECADE: How long it's taken the NFL to come up with alternate scheduling for the second half of the season. Thank goodness. Now, about that pesky preseason.
HALF-SORRY: What I am for calling the Pats milquetoast earlier in the season.
HALFWAY TO HUGS: First Bill Cowher and the world's baddest man, Joey Porter, play kissy face; now the Tuna's smooching dudes like he's at the kissing booth of the county fair. I miss the truly manly days of the game when the real warriors slapped each other's butts.
HALFWAY TO RE-RE-RETIREMENT: During his bye week I hope Coach Gibbs was filling out his application for "Dancing With the Stars."
HALF-JAPANESE: Saints linebacker and leading tackler Scott Fujita who does a samurai fist-in-palm bow after each sack. We hung out a bit during the Saints' bye week, and by the looks of his very cool warehouse-district loft (two doors down from Emeril) I'm happy to report that my wife no longer holds the record for most Pottery Barn purchases in one dwelling.
A LITTLE MORE THAN HALF: Of Steelers fans voting in a recent Web poll voted to bench Big Ben. This after he battled back from eight hours of facial surgery, a near-death experience, an appendectomy and a second brain scramble following a sack by three Falcons, just to try to take the field and make something happen for a team still hungover from the Super Bowl. Man, this is the kind of unconditional love and support from YOUR OWN FANS that makes it all worthwhile, right Ben?
HALFWAY TO HEARTBREAK: Jake Plummer's gonna get too wild and Marty Schottenheimer's gonna get too conservative. You know it. I know it. They know it.
HALF A HUNDIE: The league has done everything it possibly can to protect the pretty boys in the pocket, and already the league has gone through 48 QBs so far this season.
HALF-RIGHT HALF THE TIME: Bruce Gradkowski, Tony Romo, Marques Colston (to name a few) -- if I were a GM, I'd hire six extra scouts to do nothing but comb smaller schools across the country for draft steals like these guys who fall through the cracks of the overly pragmatic scouting system every year.
HALF THE LEAGUE: Thought they could get away with a patchwork offensive line. It's not sexy, but in the supa-parity era, depth in the trenches has become one of the main ingredients to success.
HALF-CUTE: Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri wearing a Red Sox cap in the Indy locker room this week.
HEY, NOT HALF-BAD: For U2 fanatics, the group's new massive coffee-table book "U2 By U2" is an absolute must. I had no idea the struggles the group had with its organic style of songwriting, or that as a child the Edge looked like Alfred E. Neuman.
HALF A CENTURY: That's how old Morten Andersen will be when he stops kicking field goals.
HALF A LITTLE CLASS: Is this the year the 1972 Dolphins finally realize how petty they look celebrating when a team loses?
HALF THE CREDIT THEY DESERVE (THE SECOND HALF): Chiefs QB Damon Huard, Titans LB Keith Bullock, Texans WR Andre Johnson.
HALF A CHANCE TO GO DEEP: The Vikes. Honest. They've got the run defense to hold up down the stretch and, well, their cakewalk schedule is Chicago-esque.
HALFWAY TO THE HALFWAY HOUSE: The chronically expectorant Pacman Jones, who gives new meaning to the term: lock-down corner.
HALF A CENTURY: That's how long Tony Dungy thinks he'll have to wait for the law of averages to come back around and give the Colts three home games in a row against the Patriots.
HALF-SAND: The former field at Gillette Stadium which Rodney Harrison deemed "terrible." It was so bad before the recent transplant, Harrison said, it would take him an 15 extra minutes to get out of bed on Mondays after playing at home.
And I thought I was the only one with that problem.
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His first book was "Noah's Rainbow: a Father's Emotional Journey from the Death of his Son to the Birth of his Daughter." His next book, based on the controversial 1925 NFL Pottsville Maroons (ESPN Books 2007) has been optioned as a movie by Sentinel Entertainment. Contact him at Dave.Fleming@espn3.com.